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TECHNOLOGY

TechBytes: Three key takeaways from eTail West

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

The best way to connect with digitally-savvy consumers is to offer solutions that help them make purchases seamlessly — and confidently.

But here’s the caveat: The solutions must revolve around customers’ expectations — not retailers’ agendas. This message was driven home at last week’s eTail West conference in Palm Springs, California. The event featured the hottest digital strategies that continue to shape retail, from conversational artificial intelligence and machine learning to personalized mobile strategies and augmented reality, among others.

While offering the most innovative solutions may attract customers, it is not enough to retain them. Instead, retailers need to add technology enablers that meet customers’ expectations — and challenges, a move that not only reduces friction during the shopping experience, but also helps to earn the ongoing trust of consumers.

Here are three take-aways from the conference that will enable retailers to choose the most engaging tools, and drive long-term relationships:

1. Adopt more test and learn strategies. Adding innovative solutions may keep retailers on the bleeding edge, but they are worthless if customers don’t want to use them. Since no company can predict the outcome or value of a solution, retailers need to conduct controlled trials of technology enablers to get a better handle on what customers are willing to use, and what can truly improve the shopping experience.

Sephora can attest to the power of a test and learn strategy. “For technology to be successful, it needs to solve problems,” said Raghu Sagi, chief engineering officer, Sephora. “When we take a new solution to our stores, we always get customer feedback. Then we use these comments to determine if we are solving a pain point. And if it does, then we need to determine if the solution scalable or not.”

2. Leverage machine learning. There is definitely no shortage of data across the retail industry. However, if companies want to stay relevant in the increasingly changing retail landscape, they need to stay abreast of customer trends. The only way to keep up the pace is through predictions uncovered through machine learning.

By tapping into customer behavior and shopping patterns, retailers can better predict how to service their shoppers. Whether they use results to deliver more accurate product recommendations, drive deeper levels of personalization, or even improve inventory management to achieve higher in-stock levels, machine learning could be the catalyst retailers need to make better business decisions and remove friction from the shopping experience.

3. Blend IT teams with other lines of business. The days of keeping lines of business separate from IT are long gone. As business divisions — from marketers and merchandisers to store managers themselves — adopt more IT solutions to drive efficiency, retail companies are seeing the value of breaking down the barriers that once separated these departments.

As a result, companies are beginning to blend IT even tighter within lines of business, a move that brings departments together and speeds up the evolution of customer engagement strategies. By creating a collaborative environment, one that taps the knowledge of all business departments across the organization, retailers are in a better position to test and adopt the innovations that best meet customer expectations, as well as the company’s business goals.

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